5705 East Irlo Bronson Highway, St. Cloud 34771
Adults $5.75, students (6 to 17) $4.75, children (3 to 5) $3.75; prices include tax
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Location: East of St. Cloud, about 9 miles east
of Florida Turnpike Exit 244.
This unassuming cinder block and stucco building houses an impressive collection (over 50 species) of snakes from around the world, ranging from the familiar and innocuous to the exotic and deadly. Here you’ll find the Australian taipan, considered by some to be the world’s deadliest snake, as well as a splendid 18-foot king cobra. All told, there are six species of cobra and 11 kinds of rattlesnakes. There are also snakes you may never see elsewhere, like the brilliant pea green East African green mamba and its less startling but nonetheless beautiful West African cousin. The snakes are housed in modest glass-fronted pens along a darkened corridor. Snakes are the main course, but there are also a 14-foot gator sulking in a shallow, murky pool, a passel of iguanas, and a pond full of turtles.
If all Reptile World had to offer was its snake displays, it might be recommended only to the certified snake fancier. But this is a working venom farm (if that’s the right term). Though there may be only 50 snakes on public display, behind the scenes are hundreds of venomous snakes just waiting to be milked for their valuable venom. Reptile World ships this precious commodity worldwide for use in medical and herpetological research. The regular milking of these dangerous snakes is done in public and makes Reptile World more than just another snake house.
Venom shows are scheduled at noon and 3:00 p.m. daily. Sometimes the shows start a bit late, but any wait will quickly be forgotten once the show starts. After bringing out a large snake for guests to hold, owner George Van Horn retreats behind a glass wall to take care of business. About half a dozen snakes are plucked from their boxes and coaxed into sinking their fangs through a clear membrane stretched over a collection glass. The glasses range in size from small test tubes used for coral snakes to hefty pilsner glasses used for large rattlers and cobras. The view can’t be beat; you are just three feet away from these fanged wonders and will be thankful for the glass window between you and the snakes.
The entire show is fascinating but the large snakes are the most impressive. The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the largest of its kind, bares huge fangs and spits copious venom into the collection glass. The black and white spitting cobra requires special care. As its name suggests, it spits its venom into its victim’s eyes and the recommended treatment is to wash the eyes with urine. The monocled cobra, so called because of the eye-like marking on the back of its head, emerges from its box with hood flaring and head darting rapidly about. This is serious, not to mention dangerous business. Van Horn once received a near-fatal bite from a king cobra while 30 school children looked on enthralled, convinced it was part of the show.
Reptile World is on the extreme outer fringe of the Orlando tourist circuit. For anyone who has ever been fascinated by snakes, it’s well worth the detour. By all means time your visit to the venom shows.
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